Mobile Content Venture gets its ducks in a row

The pieces to the mobile DTV puzzle continue to be moved into position and carefully fit together in the hopes that television stations in the top 20 media U.S. markets can begin transmitting live video and other localized content as part of their RF signals to a variety of portable devices by the second half of this year.

One of the key missing pieces heretofore is a reliable method for protecting content from piracy. Without it, content owners and the networks will not be willing to make their shows available to local affiliates. It’s clear that the most popular network and cable TV shows are critical to attracting consumers to participate in broadcasters’ mobile DTV business models.

Another vital piece is a compelling user experience that stimulates people to use the service on a regular basis.

It looks like the Mobile Content Venture (MCV), a consortium of a dozen station owners, has these figured out.

In a joint statement, Salil Dalvi, co-general manager of MCV and senior vice president of NBC Universal digital distribution, and Erik Moreno, co-general manager of MCV and senior vice president at Fox, said: “A vibrant mobile TV ecosystem needs broadcast services, consumer devices that comply with ATSC-Mobile standards and the ability to enable multiple business models for content owners.”

Last week, the MCV announced that it had reached agreements with a content protection technology provider and an interface application and network management services provider to combine their expertise and make the content distribution pipeline seamless for consumers while at the same time ensuring that content is not shared illegally.

Participating stations in the group said they will offer at least two channels of free, ad-supported local TV programming per market. Consumers will have to subscribe to the service for free via a user registration process.

Nagra-Kudelski, based in Switzerland with U.S. offices in Englewood, CO, and San Francisco, CA, has agreed to contribute its content protection technology (that works across multiple display screens), which will allow broadcasters to encrypt content and experiment with various business models, including advertising-supported distribution.

MobiTV, in Emeryville, CA, is developing end-user applications to allow broadcasters to customize and brand the interface for their local markets and consumers to choose specific programs — both live TV and on-demand fare — and change channels much like they do with their home TVs.

The client app that MobiTV is building (and which it showed in prototype during private demonstrations at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week) represents a common user interface that allows live TV signals as well as on-demand cable TV content to be displayed via broadcasters’ ATSC transmissions as well as unicast (WiFi, 3G, 4G) wireless networks. Content will be ingested into MobiTV’s Accelerated Media Platform (AMP) backend infrastructure at its network operations center in Emeryville, CA. MobiTV will also leverage its AMP capabilities to measure consumer usage of the Mobile DTV service, from its headquarters in Emeryville. (MobiTV performs similar wireless distribution services for the NFL and NBA via Verizon.)

Ray DeRenzo, chief marketing officer at MobiTV, said they’ll measure usage habits for both programs and commercials. This includes the length of a viewing session, channel changing habits and whether a viewer watched a particular ad or not.

“Since we already have the capability to do network management of unicast streams, part of the relationship with the MCV is that they will direct their broadcast telemetry into our NOC, so we’ll also be monitoring the local broadcast signals as well,” he said. “So from a single location we’ll monitor both the broadcast and unicast signals being delivered to the MobiTV client via ‘user logs’ loaded onto any portable device with a compatible ATSC Mobile DTV tuner chip.”

Participating stations will install special routing equipment in their facilities that will send the mobile DTV signals from the consumer’s portable device to MobiTV’s NOC facility where the measurements will be captured and tabulated.

“We’ll be able to understand the quality of the video and who’s watching it,” DeRenzo said.

MobiTV’s technology will be tightly integrated with Nagra’s conditional access protection software and Triveni Digital, which will provide the electronic program guide data.

“Our platform includes a series of open APIs that allow third-party companies to work seamlessly within our framework,” DeRenzo said. “So, for example, the conditional access piece will be queried before the actual content is delivered. And it happens automatically when content is requested from the local station.”

The plan for local stations in the mobile space is to deliver content initially to PCs and tablets via either an internal receiver chip or an external USB dongle.

“We’re looking for a commercial launch of local mobile DTV service in some markets by Q3 of this year,” DeRenzo said, adding that his company builds applications for all types of operating systems. “I think we’ll see a lot of new tablets coming into the market this year, and the great majority of those tablets will run on the Android operating system.”

DeRenzo said one of the reasons why MobiTV thinks the MCV will be more successful than some of the other mobile DTV ventures that have been announced before this is that the MCV is focused on securing distribution on a larger number of devices.

“The MCV group has worked hard to work with OEMs to make sure that those receiver chips are embedded on a large number of platforms and form factors,” he said. “I think everyone understands that the biggest hurdle to success here is the pervasiveness of ATSC receiver chips and the number of devices available in the market.”

To this end, the MCV said it has struck deals with Dell and Samsung to deploy MCV-compatible devices with a built-in mobile DTV tuner. Some existing devices with ATSC-compliant receiver chips being touted by the Open Mobile Video Coalition — another industry group promoting mobile DTV — may not be able to receive the MCV service.

The MCV includes NBC Universal, Fox and the members of Pearl Mobile TV DTV, a mobile content consortium, which includes Belo, Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, Media General, Meredith, Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media.

“I think the MCV has done a good job of getting stations onboard that are traditionally competitors,” DeRenzo said, “so I have expectations that the service will be successful, but it will take time.”